The partnership between Novak Djokovic and Boris Becker is arguably into its most important part of the season. Can the pair conquer Djokovic's weakest surface, clay? Wimbledon.com wonders...
Is Boris Becker to become the second player from the 1980s to mentor a member of the modern generation to the one Grand Slam title missing from his own collection? Hire a name and a face from the 1980s and you're buying in experience, someone who has been there and done that. But sometimes your superstar or celebrity coach can propel you to achieve things that were beyond them in their own playing days.
First it was Ivan Lendl, twice a finalist at the All England Club, who guided Andy Murray to last summer's Wimbledon title, and perhaps this spring Becker, who reached three semi-finals at Roland Garros, but who never progressed any further, can enable Novak Djokovic to win the French Open for the first time. As with Lendl at the All England Club, Becker hasn’t been there and done that at Roland Garros; both were left one major short of achieving of the career Grand Slam. Becker’s employer, Djokovic, is already three quarters of the way to completing his Grand Slam set, after previous victories at the Australian Open, Wimbledon and the US Open, and the way he has been playing of late would suggest that he is going to give himself every chance of winning La Coupe des Mousquetaires. So Djokovic doesn’t hold any of the Grand Slam titles at the moment, but he could hardly have played any better over the past month as he won titles at California’s Indian Wells Tennis Garden and then Florida’s Crandon Park; indeed, his performance against Rafa Nadal in the Miami final was of such quality that the Majorcan couldn’t offer much of a response.
While Becker wasn’t in the States – he didn’t travel because of an operation to both hips – the indications are that the German’s words of advice and encouragement have had Djokovic believing in his tennis again. The plan is for Becker and Djokovic to be reunited at the Monte Carlo Country Club this month, for the start of the European clay-court swing, building to the French Open, which begins at the end of May. It is going to be intriguing to see whether Djokovic’s form on American hard courts will transfer across the ocean and to another surface. For the past couple of years, Nadal, the greatest clay-court player of all time, has needed to be at his best to fend off Djokovic’s challenge at Roland Garros. Nadal was a four-set winner over Djokovic in the 2012 final, and then last year they produced a five-setter in the semi-finals, with Nadal taking the decider 9-7. And if Djokovic moves and strikes the ball in Paris as he did in America, how could Nadal counter?
Becker told me that it was probably just as well that some members of his generation didn’t win all four Grand Slams as, being confident men already, perhaps then they would have felt as though they were “close to God”. Still, it should be noted that Becker was never as obsessed by trying to win the French Open as Lendl was by attempting to score the only Grand Slam trophy which eluded him. Should Djokovic win in Paris, he would become the third player of his generation, after Roger Federer and Nadal, to win all of the four slams at least once each; such a result would further suggest that this is the golden generation, albeit one that has bought in the assistance of the players from the 1980s.
20:24...But boy, it was a barrow-load of fun. I hope you enjoyed it even half as much as we did. Thank you for all your messages throughout, you've been the glue holding us together as the edges frayed amid the madness. Now if you'll excuse me, it's time for us Brits to raise a toast to Andy Murray and Fred Perry. British sporting legends both.
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